ON A NARROW country road in a Boston suburb is a narrow entrance for a narrow driveway to an old house on a hill. Everything is hidden behind a stand of trees casually tended by nature and not by a landscape gardner. Here is where Marian Morash cooks and Russel Morash gardens, in real life as well as on public television.
Russell Morash's garden, filling most of the two-acre plot in a Mondrian arrangement of rectangular beds, is a celebrity in its own right, having been a television star on "Crockett's Victory Garden" before Marian Morash ever cooked before a camera's eye. When viewer requests for recipes started overwhelming Boston's WGBH, the station added a cooking demonstration to the newly revamped "Victory Garden" show, done by Marian and filmed in her own kitchen.
"When we first started giving cooking information on 'Crockett's Victory Garden', we thought the gardeners would resent it," Marian said, "but lots of viewers were wiring in to say, 'I've grown all these beautiful leeks, and what can I do with them?' So we did a leek recipe and more letters came piling in. The audience, it seemed, still wanted more, so we added the chef spot." And that led to "The Victory Garden Cookbook" (Knopf, $25), but only after years of developing and consuming recipes which reached a stunning total that topped 800, from familiar carrots and broccoli to exotic salsify, celeriac and kohlrabi; from the expected corn chowder to the newly invented corn crepes with a taco filling.
On a weekday morning, the Morash house was quiet, but it still managed to convey that 10,000 things were going on here. Desk tops in various rooms supported papers and books in busy piles, and Marian's old rolltop desk that was her father's had its pigeon holes bristling with notes. It is four steps from the work island in the center and six steps from the stove which could be considered the heart, figuratively and geographically, of the house.
Marian has bright blue eyes and a brilliant smile, familiar on television and displayed throughout the cookbook, but she is more than just another pretty face. Television and cookbook writing are only part of her workday world. In 1975 close friends Laine and Jock Gifford saw an old laundromat inhabiting some beautiful space along the waterfront on Nantucket Island, and decided to turn it into a restaurant. They called it The Straight Wharf.
"The atmosphere they wanted," Marian said, "was the atmosphere they felt when Susan Mayer and I were preparing a company dinner together in the kitchen." Thus the two women found themselves graduating from the ranks of good cooks to good chefs. Even then, Marian was no starry-eyed neophyte. Her father had been a professional chef, and although she hadn't cooked with him, she had some idea of what lay ahead.
"A restaurant is a total commitment," she said. "For the first few years we worked all the time, and finally when we got the system under our belts we were able to cut down on the time a little." They even worked it out to spell each other on alternate weeks to give Morash time to plan and test her cookbook. "I thought it wouldn't take more than a few months. Then three years later . . ."
The beach? A tan? "I never get to see anything until the restaurant closes in the middle of September. We bought a house on Nantucket when we realized how much time the restaurant would absorb, and I can enjoy the island before and after the season."
Late in the '70s, the restaurant work was augmented with a new job for Morash when she joined the WGBH staff as executive chef for the Julia Child series, "Julia Child and More Company."
"I had the technical experience necessary and a dedication to Julia. She was my original inspiration for becoming a cook in the first place."
It all adds up to an impressive amount of time spent in the kitchen. Kitchen Philosophy
Morash has a quick and hearty laugh that makes it possible for her to have definite opinions about food without making them sound like judgments. Despite a voluminous garden and no matter how convenient or thrifty, frozen food holds no charms for her. "The space over the refrigerator is all the freezer I have, and that's filled only with the overflow of tomatoes from the garden. I feel that a tomato should be savored at that time of year when they're freshest and best." Canning and preserving are also low on her list of food preparations.
In the center of the kitchen is a stretch of butcher block that is eight feet long and four feet wide, set higher than the average counter space on a pedestal fitted with drawers for storage. Overhead a long bar hangs for pots and pans, every imaginable size of copper, aluminum and iron saucepans, saute' pans, frying pans crowding together like ripe fruit.
One enormous Calphalon saute' pan, deep and commodious, is given its own hook in an inconvenient corner beside the stove hood. It is the kind of pan to be taken down when 16 people are coming to dinner and five chickens must be browned.
"Some of the equipment is lugged back and forth from the restaurant kitchen," Morash said, "although we can't use copper or pans with special coating. They don't survive the enthusiasms of the dish washers."
Her gas range is restaurant size with six burners, and two electric wall ovens have been installed beside it. Mixer, food processor, blender and miscellaneous small appliances wait side by side on the long kitchen counter between the sink and the refrigerator. "I leave everything out," Morash said. "If they're tucked away in a cabinet, it's easy not to use them at all."
A structural post across from the work area is saved from inconvenience by supporting shelving for her voluminous collection of cookbooks. The sum total of the kitchen is as personal as it is efficient. Housing Project
Like many old New England homes, Morash's wanders along the site, a house of many parts. "Originally it was an old white farmhouse with a big front porch," she said. "We lived down the road, and I'd always been attracted to the place. Finally we could bid on it and won, but heaven knows what we got. It turned out to be a series of sheds with no heat."
Marian was willing to forget the whole thing, but Russell walked the property, two acres backed up against conservation land. A 12-story condominium was unlikely to be built and block out the sun. And to complete its attractions, there in a corner he found an asparagus bed.
The house, however, turned out to be the kind of nightmare project that makes great before-and-after snapshots, and the memory still sends Marian's eyes rolling. Only four rooms of the original house remain. Well, it's over now, and the two acres have proven to be invaluable.
The Morash priorities in life can be seen in the position of the rooms. Through the front door, the old section of the house is to the right, the original front and back parlors that have become a den and dining room with the original fireplace and the original table that seats 12. The kitchen is to the left of the foyer with its generous work areas for cooking and bountiful floor space for guests to stand around and watch the preparation of their dinner.
The living room is beyond the kitchen, another large and richly garnished area that is a small wing all on its own. A short side is filled with a massive fireplace in old brick, the firebox built above a ledge and fitted with a handsome black woodstove which has become a familiar sight during New England winters. Fireplace fires are too inefficient.
Colors are wheat, oatmeal, chocolate, burnt orange with touches of lemon, and the strawcloth wallcovering has shading close to the Leek and Pork Pie crust in "The Victory Garden Cookbook."
A walk-in greenhouse off the living room is where the seedlings are started in the spring and a few tomato plants are kept for ripe fruit in winter. It also holds a few pots of ailing plants, undoubtedly brought in by friends and neighbors who expect a Victory Garden miracle to be performed. In the Famous Garden
Outside growing edibles and flowers are throughout the two acres and wrap around the house. Beyond the neat, healthy beds pictured in the cookbook and seen on the television series are blueberry bushes, an herb garden off the kitchen door, espaliered fruit trees, concord grape vines that came with the house and a new asparagus bed. (The original was suffering from old age.)
Even in late fall the vegetable beds are providing for the table . . . the leeks, carrots, beets, fennel, late spinach, greens and parsnips. Most of the Morash Thanksgiving dinner will come out of the cold ground.
A small attractive building flanks the largest garden area at the beginning of the driveway. "For a while there, I thought we'd have a garage," Marian said, and room has been given over to the bicycles. The rest shields garden equipment from bad weather and stores some of the harvest and affords another, larger place to do some potting, and so forth.
Russell Morash has been an enthusiastic gardener even before he became the producer of the first WGBH garden show with Jim Crockett and now the "Victory Garden" with Bob Thompson. He also produces the Julia Child series and "This Old House" . . . an outgrowth, one suspects, from the trials and tribulations of his own rebuilding of an old house.
Does he cook? The question hung lightly in the air as Marian considered it. "We have the perfect arrangement," she finally said. "Visitation rights. I am welcome to come into the garden to harvest what I cook, and Russell particularly enjoys a stir-fry every now and then . . . but we are both very territorial. I wouldn't dream of telling him what to do with his tomatoes." And vice versa, obviously. What the Future Holds
This year there is less kale in the garden than usual, about six plants waiting for their flavor-enhancing frost. Right after Christmas, Marian and Russ will leave for California to start a new Julia Child series in Santa Barbara where the Childs spend their winters now.
"Of course, Russ is already scheduling a spring trip back to get the garden in." Marian is looking forward to a warmer climate for the most painful Massachusetts months, all that Pacific coast fish, and fresh vegetables that have not made a refrigerated trip across the continent.
To leave this bucolic paradise, the visitor backs down the steep driveway and makes a quick turn into a clearing thoughtfully made in a stand of trees wild with underbrush. Then two or three turns are all that are necessary to reach a major thoroughfare and an impressive view of the Boston skyline in the near distance. It's a clear case of having your ratatouille and eating it, too. SQUASH, EGG AND CHEESE CASSEROLE (6 to 8 servings) Salt 4 cups sliced squash 2 tablespoons oil 2 tablespoons butter Red pepper flakes 1 cup chopped onions 1 teaspoon minced garlic 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups grated swiss cheese 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill Lemon juice Freshly ground pepper
Salt, drain and pat the squash dry; set aside. Heat oil and butter in large saute' pan and saute' red pepper flakes for 2 to 3 minutes; remove from pan. Cook the onions until wilted and golden; add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the squash and saute' lightly. Beat the eggs with the cheeses and herbs. Combine with the cooked vegetables; season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour into a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until set.
This mixture can also be used as a filling for a quiche. Bake in a partially baked 10-inch pie shell at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until set. MOSTLY CABBAGE SOUP (Makes 3 1/2 to 4 quarts) For the soup: 2 1/2- to 3-pound green cabbage 3 stalks celery 1 large sweet onion 2 leeks 1 pound carrots 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon oil 2 quarts water, chicken broth, or a combination of both Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 cups fresh shell beans or cooked dried beans French or rye bread For the herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs 3 crushed cloves garlic 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon thyme 8 crushed peppercorns Green portion of leek leaves
Wash and slice the cabbage into 1/2-inch shreds. Clean the celery and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Peel and slice the onion. Wash the leeks thoroughly and slice the whites, placing some of the green leaves in the herb bouquet.
Peel and diagonally slice the carrots into 1/4-inch pieces. Melt the butter and oil in a 6-quart saucepan. Stew the onion, leeks and carrots in the pan for 5 minutes. Add bouquet, water or broth and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and boil gently for 15 minutes. Stir in the beans and cook 15 minutes longer or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the herb bouquet, season to taste, and serve with toasted rounds of french bread or rye bread. BROCCOLI MORSELS (Makes 16 1 1/2-inch balls)
This unusual vegetable accompaniment is also good nestled into a plate of spaghetti. Make smaller for cocktail tidbits, or serve as a cold snack. 2 large eggs 2 cups blanched broccoli, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces* 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs 1/2 to 1 cup freshly grated cheese (such as swiss, mozzarella, parmesan or a combination) Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic (optional) 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Beat eggs and combine with all the ingredients except oil. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls. Heat oil in a saute' pan, cook broccoli until browned on all sides, approximately 5 minutes, and drain.
*Cauliflower can be substituted for broccoli. WINTER SQUASH CREME WITH CARAMEL (6 servings) Caramel: 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup water Squash Creme (Custard) 1 1/2 cups mashed cooked winter squash (preferably butternut, about 1 1/2 pounds) 3 whole eggs 2 egg yolks 2 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup milk 1 cup heavy cream
Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil, swirling the pan as the syrup cooks, until it turns a rich tea brown. This can take 10 minutes or so. When the syrup is ready, pour into a 1-quart casserole or individual molds. Revolve dish rapidly so that caramel runs over the bottom and slides as evenly as possible. It hardens almost immediately, so work quickly. Remember caramel is very hot -- use potholders, and be extremely careful not to burn yourself. The mold is now ready for the squash creme.
Pure'e the mashed squash to the very finest texture possible, using a blender or putting it through a sieve. Beat eggs and egg yolks together, then beat into them the sugar, salt, spices and squash. Bring the milk and cream to a boil and add in a stream, very slowly at first, to the egg-squash mixture, beating all the time. Pour the mixture into the caramel-lined mold or molds and place in a deep larger pan. Pour boiling water halfway up the filled mold and set in the middle of a 325-degree oven. Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove mold from water bath and chill for at least 3 hours before serving. To unmold, run knife around the edge and dip bottom of mold in hot water to loosen custard. Unmold on a chilled serving plate. All recipes from "The Victory Garden Cookbook"